Merlin: The Game is an official Facebook game adaptation of the BBC TV show by the same name. It was developed by Bossa Studios, the team behind the excellent Monstermind, and has just launched into open beta, allowing anyone to play.
Facebook-based role-playing games come in several different varieties: we have sumptuous, visually-impressive titles such as Moonlight Online which offer the depth of a standalone PC game; we have offerings such as Funzio’s Kingdom Age, which attempt to blend strategy and RPG gameplay together but often spread their “depth” too thinly; and we have rather simplistic affairs such as 3DDUO’s Code Lyoko, in which control is often wrested away from the player for the most interesting parts, leaving them to sit back and watch as their avatar defeats enemies without any input whatsoever.
Very few Facebook-based RPGs actually get the formula right, however, with many simplifying their mechanics to such a degree that “core” players — those who would typically be attracted to this type of game — likely leave after a day or two of play upon realizing that there really isn’t a lot for them to do. A common offender is the games’ combat systems — many Facebook RPGs completely remove all element of “risk” from combat, making it feel like the user might as well be harvesting crops rather than fighting for their life against an evil monster.
Merlin: The Game, however, is different — it gets the balance between accessibility and the thrilling feeling of “risk and reward” just right. Combat, which players will spend a lot of time participating in, unfolds in a similar fashion to a real-time strategy game, with characters automatically continuing to attack every few seconds once an enemy has been clicked on. Special abilities may also be triggered using either the number keys or a “hotbar” at the base of the screen. Enemies will pursue and attack the player even when they have not been clicked on — a key part of the “risk” that is usually missing from Facebook RPGs — and it is possible to “fail” a quest by running out of health. The 3D polygonal characters and smooth, fluid animation give the game a satisfyingly “solid” feeling that is absent from many of its rivals on the social network.
Between quests, the player character gets to wander around Camelot and interact with various characters from the TV show, including Merlin and Arthur. During this downtime, the player may use acquired currency to purchase new equipment and skills for themselves, and also gather various resources, which are required to go on quests. The game does not use an energy system, but does require various combinations of food, talisman and royal seal items to enter quests. These are produced by various characters in the town over time, or in the case of food may also be traded for soft currency. There does not appear to be a means of bypassing the various delays with hard currency — this is instead used as an alternative means of acquiring various items and abilities before the player reaches the level at which they become available to purchase with soft currency.
Merlin: The Game is exactly the sort of push forward that the Facebook-based role-playing game genre needs. It has attractive graphics, good quality sound and solid gameplay — gameplay that, crucially, is understandable enough for casual players to understand but offers a sufficient degree of “risk and reward” to satisfy more hardcore players. It deserves to enjoy some success on the social network, as it sets some excellent examples that hopefully other developers considering putting together a Facebook RPG will learn from.
As a new release, Merlin: The Game is not yet listed on our traffic tracking service AppData at the time of writing, but check back shortly to follow its progress by MAU, WAU, DAU and user retention figures.
Exactly the kick up the backside the Facebook-based role-playing game genre needed; other developers take note!